Numerous reports regarding the Biogenesis scandal have repeatedly hinted suspensions against Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and approximately two dozen other players could be announced in the coming weeks. For many of us, though, the pending suspensions had never felt real. Story fatigue had set in, and any Biogenesis article essentially read: “The suspensions are coming. We swear they’re coming.” But it was always just over the horizon and nobody truly understood what the suspensions would even look like, or even if they would survive any potential appeal.
On Monday afternoon, the Biogenesis story finally came to a head and rocked the baseball landscape when Ryan Braun announced in a statement from Major League Baseball that he had “made some mistakes” in the past. The statement said he would be suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season (65 games) without pay for violating the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Reportedly, after Braun initially met with Major League Baseball on June 29 and witnessed the massive amount of evidence against him, the 29-year-old superstar requested another meeting with MLB officials to negotiate a deal that would prevent his suspension from spilling over into the 2014 season. That meeting presumably led to the statement on Monday.
Working under the assumption Braun would have ultimately been suspended — which seems to be an incredibly safe assumption given the circumstances — this is the best-case scenario for the Milwaukee Brewers. The 2013 season has already been lost, so Braun’s suspension will not impact any postseason run. The former MVP has also battled a thumb injury this season. In essence, this suspension allows him to rehab his thumb and return 100-percent healthy next year, of which he will not miss a single game due to the agreed-upon suspension. Finally, the announcement will allow the Brewers to move forward and begin planning for the ’14 season without the cloud of Biogenesis looming over the franchise.
For the larger baseball community, this suspension is more significant than on-the-field ramifications for Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s about perceived justice and protecting the honor of the game. Many baseball fans felt the five-time All Star escaped on a technicality when he won his appeal in 2011. This suspension and admission of guilt (though Braun stopped short of explicitly asserting PED usage) is cathartic for many baseball fans, who can now label Braun a “user” and a “liar.”
And in many ways, they’re correct. Braun may have not explicitly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, but his acceptance of the 65-game suspension effectively validates those claims.
However, the real quandary arises when attempting to ascertain what Braun being a user really means. In baseball terms, he violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and will now serve an agreed-upon suspension. That’s really it. End of story. In 2014, he will once again don a Milwaukee Brewers uniform and likely proceed to terrorize opposing pitchers. Chances are quite good that he’ll replicate past performance and prove his success has not been dependent upon performance-enhancing drugs. Little projects to change on the diamond.
This story is more than that, though. It’s largely focused on morality. Columnists and writers are calling Braun and liar and a cheat. A quick Google search for “Ryan Braun cheater” nets 28,100 results — a number that will assuredly climb in the coming days. For example, Buster Olney of ESPN says Braun is the Lance Armstrong of baseball. Steven Goldman’s title simply reads “Ryan Braun: Liar” and takes him to task for brazenly asserting his innocence over a year ago. Jeff Passan wrote a strongly-worded column a couple weeks ago criticizing him for not coming forth and telling the truth. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi says Braun is the league leader in selfishness.
The problem: baseball has little to do with morality. If right and wrong had any place in baseball, Josh Lueke would never have thrown a single pitch in the big leagues. Yovani Gallardo would have been suspended for driving drunk earlier this season. Miguel Cabrera wouldn’t be held up as a god amongst men after multiple incidents involving alcohol. Brett Myers wouldn’t have thrown 21.1 innings for the Cleveland Indians this year. In short, if you’re relying on baseball to be the bastion of morality in our society, you need to get your compass checked.
Of course, the outrage surrounding PED users comes from a place of purity. Many strive for the game we love to be pristine. Perfect. Just like it was when it was considered America’s Game for the better part of the 20th century. But that ideal doesn’t exist. Players have always cheated. They’ve scuffed baseballs, taken amphetamines, corked bats and stolen signs. You name it, there’s a good chance a past player has done it.
Again, there is no golden ideal of baseball where the best team won every game and nobody attempted to skirt the rules or gain a competitive advantage. It doesn’t exist. We simply cannot turn back the clocks and get back to a perfect era of baseball. Not that we shouldn’t strive to achieve a league in which players don’t cheat. That’s an admirable goal. We simply shouldn’t become indignant when a player (or, in this case, multiple players) thought they could gain a step on the field by using performance-enhancing substances. It’s happened countless times. You’d think we would have learned by now.
Ryan Braun broke the rules. The evidence provided by Anthony Bosch and his former employees must have been air-tight to have motivated Braun to accept a suspension and admit guilt, which suggests many other suspensions are on the horizon. Those players will also serve their suspensions. They will then return once their suspensions have been completed. That’s how the program is designed to work, and that’s how it will work. No point in trying to make some larger moral point on the subject. And if we do want to make a moral point, perhaps, more than anything, the Biogenesis case should serve as another reminder of why baseball fans should not idolize players and put them on a pedestal. They’re not gods. They’re human beings.
And human beings make countless wrong choices. Ryan Braun will serve a suspension for the wrong choices he made, and baseball will move on. The finer points of morality do not matter. Baseball is the only thing that matters, and the sooner we all move on to baseball, the better.